Hunter Pritchett's first job on the line, at fourteen, was slinging fried fish at a Long John Silver's, a gig that certainly could have persuaded him to go in a very different direction from cooking. But Pritchett, the executive chef of Luca d'Italia, wasn't deterred, cooking at restaurants around the world, and making a name for himself along the way, especially at Luca, where he's been behind the burners since 2008, turning out brilliant Italian dishes alongside owner Frank Bonanno.
But January 26 will be Pritchett's last night at Luca.
"I've been throwing the idea around of moving for awhile," says Pritchett, "and while working with Frank has been great, it's time for me to go and do something different, somewhere else."
That "somewhere else" is Los Angeles, where Pritchett will be a sous chef at Son of a Gun, a small, buzzy, beach-y fish-centric restaurant (Travel & Leisure magazine named it one of the top seafood restaurants in the country last year) that's owned by Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, the two irreverent chefs (and former Food Network stars) whose first LA restaurant, Animal, which, true to its name, is all about the beast, has dominated the LA restaurant scene since it opened in 2008.
"I hit up Jon and Vinnie when they were here for the Chipotle Cultivate Festival last year, and then I went out to LA, staged with them for a day at Animal, went to the Highland Park Farmers' Market with them and learned about what they do and how they do it, and it was was really, really cool," says Pritchett, whose last day in Denver will be January 30.
Pritchett will start his gig, he tells me at, at Son of a Gun, but reveals that there are future opportunities. "These guys are definitely growing, and I know there's something there for me," he says, including, he notes, the possibility of a position at a new LA restaurant that's a collaboration between Shook and Dotolo and Ludo Lefebvre, whose pop-up dining phenoms (and Ludo Bites America, seen on the Sundance channel) made their way to Denver; in 2011, Lefebvre did a pop-up dinner at Biker Jim's.
"All I know right now is that I'm going to a be a sous at Son of a Gun to start with and then hopefully move up with the company," says Pritchett. "They're great dudes, and we all seem to have a lot in common, and, honestly, their products and commitment to quality can't be beat, plus they have a solid farmers' market culture. I'm ready to get out of my own head and learn about someone else's systems. I'm ready to go."
And while he's excited about his move to LA -- his wife, Katie, will attend UCLA -- he acknowledges that his departure from Denver is bittersweet. "So many chefs, purveyors and friends have been coming in for dinner since I told them I was leaving -- and that's been really awesome," he tells me. "I'm grateful to Frank, and I'm really going to miss my kitchen crew and the Bonanno block family...and Theo Adley. I'll miss him a lot. I'm going to miss the Denver restaurant community as a whole, but I'm ready to be near the ocean, year-round fresh produce and have nicer weather."
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Pritchett's clogs will be filled by Eric Cimino, the current pasta chef at Luca. "We're excited for Hunter and his next cooking gig, and we're looking forward to seeing Eric in his new leadership role," says Lauren Hendrick, PR and marketing coordinator for Bonanno Concepts.